With bombs exploding in the Green Zone, the fate of Saddam Hussein seems to many a secondary priority. But what if this logic is backward? Leave aside abstract ideals of justice and human rights and consider the practical reasons to get this tribunal underway: What if the insurgency, the bombs and the massacres are happening precisely because there has been no national discussion of the past?
If that sounds peculiar, don’t listen to me. Listen instead to Kanan Makiya, the former Iraqi dissident who has now dedicated himself to consolidating, scanning and investigating the archives of the former regime. Makiya thinks that what matters is not whether the Iraqis remember Hussein’s reign but how they remember it. Was the Baathist state a totalitarian regime under which the entire nation suffered? Or was it a conspiracy of the Sunni minority against the Shiite majority? If Iraqis come to believe the former, argues Makiya, it might still be possible for them to unify behind a new national government. If Iraqis come to believe the latter, the result could be ethnic civil war. A complete trial of Hussein, one that showed the extent of the corruption, forced collaboration, violence and terror he imposed on the entire nation, might help Iraqis understand that all of them — Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish — suffered in different ways.
“Hanging’s too good for him,” some might say. Perhaps. But a real trial could do some real good for Iraq.
And it would set a fine example for the rest of the region, too.